I wrote this story today. I gotta tell you, it is a total failure of a story.
Let me tell you about that street. It was a long and nice street. It was not the kind of street I was used to.
I was walking north up Lakeshore Drive just after dawn, right when the sun was beginning like a burglar to peak its head through the buildings downtown. Still that was miles away. The sun wasn’t touching me quite yet.
For most of the night I was awake, tracing some of the cracks in my hardwood floors with a knife to see what would crop up. In the end not much emerged from the floor. Whether it was all empty or just that I couldn’t get to whatever was in the cracks, I can’t say with any certainty. Some dirt was there, some lint, some hair that didn’t seem to be mine. I thought there would be bugs. I guess there were none after all. That was good—after Paul moved out I couldn’t really afford the place anymore. A cleaner and emptier place would probably get me the security deposit back in full.
In the early hours of the day I started out towards the lake, walked a bit cold down the smooth black biking track that runs close along the beach, and tried to outmaneuver the day. When I got to Lakeshore I realized I was on streets and sidewalks that were smooth and as suddenly surprising as black ice. Concrete and asphalt as fresh and virgin as I imagined God’s skin to be, sitting under houses that belonged in the sky somewhere.
It was a street I had never walked along before. The houses were stone and giant. There were hedges that lined their sidewalks to keep people on the ground level from getting in too easily. I walked and watched and imagined that I was in Italy or France or the middle of the sea.
People walked by with their husbands and wives and dogs. I nodded my head even if they couldn’t see me and felt good for them. I really did. Later on down the street, when the sun was coming larger and brighter, I could hear dogs behind the hedges rolling around and being dogs.
There was one house in particular that was shaped like a lower-case letter N, with a chimney and an arch. Maybe it wasn’t a house, or maybe it was a house that was more than a house. I stopped in front of it and looked through the space underneath the N. I lit a cigarette even though I thought I should probably stop and tried to blow smoke all the way through the N house and out to the lake behind it, but settled for watching the smoke just disappear. The wind was coming up through the hole towards me, and I could feel it come up under my clothes. I let the wind come in and tried to capture it under my shirt. Then I let it all out again and felt my belly and sighed.
When I got to North Street I turned west and started to walk faster. Buildings got smaller, roads got bumpier. Things seemed to be trying to sprout up out of the pavement. There were more and more cars. As I walked, I smoked one cigarette and then another until what was left in my pack was gone.
I had almost made a big circle back to my apartment when instead I decided to cut through a small park in the middle of all the things of the city, through some trees and brush that surrounded a small body of water. I felt I should stop and look at that water, so I did that for a few minutes. It was mostly water, is all.
Some kids were scrounging around near the shore. There were four of them. They had something that they were passing back and forth. Three would laugh and the fourth would stop and look at his chest. Then he’d move and would laugh with two others while the last one looked down at his chest. I watched them and then looked at my chest too.
Then I walked over to them without really knowing why. Before I got close enough to say anything, they saw me. They had a small cat in their arms. I couldn’t really tell yet, but the cat looked gray and wonderful, especially in the arms of small children.
The children panicked and threw the kitten into the water, running off right afterward. I guess I panicked too at that point. But things sometimes just come to you when they’re supposed to, even if you don’t think they’re supposed to, and I started to forget the children and run into the water. I stopped only to check my pockets. I had some matches and some keys in there, so I was good. I waded into the dirty water up to my waist. The kitten was wet and unhappy. It was struggling. I lifted it up out of the water and held it up to where the sun was in the sky. For a second, before the sun hurt my eyes, it was there. All of it.
On the way back to my apartment I had to put the cat under my shirt because I saw some gesturing woman with a box outside of her townhouse selling pet babies. I had saved the cat, so I thought that this one should probably be mine. I just didn’t know how the woman would feel about this.
The little thing pushed its paws into my skin. Again and again it did this, and even with its little claws I felt right. Plus it was all cold in there, under my clothes. I figured if I was getting colder, then the cat was at least getting warmer. That night I talked to the kitten as it roamed around my apartment getting hair everywhere. I told the cat about people and about apartments. I made a bed for it with some towels and a mixing bowl that I put on my own mattress.
We slept well that night.
In the morning I got up and got the kitten ready. I wrapped some string around its body and held onto it while it peed in the dry dirt outside the building. When I awoke I had decided pretty clearly that I should drive the cat around the street I had walked on the day before.
I said, “Not everything is dark and deep like the pond.”
But I wanted to show it too. So we got in the car.
“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t have any AC in here.”
The cat stumbled around on the seat and mewed the whole time we were driving. It was really hot in the car. The poor thing was probably uncomfortable there.
I stopped on the side of the nice, long street at a spot where we could see the lake in the distance. For an hour or so I just sat with the cat. I took it out on its string for a few minutes and let it roll around in the grass and chase the leaves that that blew in the wind. Then we got back in the car.
And then an older man came up and knocked on my window after awhile. I rolled it down.
“I’m not doing anything,” I said, startled and feeling guilty.
“What?” he said.
“This is my cat,” I said.
“Your tire in the rear is a bit low,” he said. “And you’re parked on the curb.”
I looked up at him standing over me. He was tall and broad. He looked beautiful for some reason, and before I knew it I wanted to cry. I put my arm on the sill and felt strange—good and bad at the same time. The cat lay on the seat, while its tail shot back and forth.
“You saved me some trouble,” I said.
He touched my arm for a second and nodded. Then he was gone. For a few seconds I was in love with the touch he’d given me. I moved the car forward off of the curb and petted the cat between the ears. I lifted it up and put its paws on the window, then let it doze on the seat again. I was sweating so I pulled my shirt up, scratched my belly and circled my belly-button with my finger. The sun was out of sight, right above us, right above our heads as we sat in the car. I dreamed of going places in that car then, riding along in perfect places where the sun was out of sight, where we were free and imperceptible like the old man on the street.
I said to the cat, “We’re going.”
And then I dreamed the whole way home.
Those twenty-four hours were the most gorgeous of both our little lives. But that cat died a few weeks later from falling out of my window into the backyard next door where a dog roamed around. I suppose in a way I might’ve made the same mistake.
I should’ve known about the window, but it was so hot where I lived. It was the best I could do. I didn’t realize what had happened for awhile. But when I did I stood next to the window and dreamed of falling through the cracks there into something grand. It wasn’t beautiful. I felt that it should be, but it wasn’t. Not at all.
In the following years I would get another cat and another. The baby inside of me would come out wrong and die there in the hospital. I would remember the way it was cold and clutching like it too was drowning. I would lose the apartment and most of the deposit would go to the last month’s rent. I would dream of saviors and smooth streets and find none of them for real, becoming instead some kind of broken, ambling wizard of the pregnant streets, just getting by.